Fitzgerald: Arabia Petraea, or General Petraeus’ Middle East (Part IV): Twenty-Seven Articles (revised edition)
Those who have read the previous articles that have appeared here under the title “Arabia Petraea, or General Petraeus’s Middle East,” (Part I here, Part II here, and Part III here), may possibly not be quite so impressed either with T. E. Lawrence, Lawrence of Arabia, nor with his “Twenty-Seven Articles,” as they might once have been. That, at least, was part of what I hoped to accomplish – to make people aware that Richard Aldington, Elie Kedourie, J. B. Kelly, and others had shown what a mythomane Lawrence was in exaggerating the claims he put forth for the military significance of the “Arab Revolt.”
And I had another goal as well, which was to point out the painful ignorance of some of those hailed as “military intellectuals,” whose Guides to Insurgency I find wrong (in suggesting there is anything helpful, or even anything that makes sense, in declaring such things as “in general, insurgencies last X, Y, Z numbers of years”), bloated (often stating portentously, and at great length, what is merely obvious common sense – such things on the level of “find out everything you can about your enemy” or “don’t get between a ruler and his men if you want to stay on good terms with either”). The series of pieces was prompted by a recent article by Bertram Wyatt-Brown, one claiming that Lawrence of Arabia had found new admirers among the American military, and that among these admirers are at least two colonels (Nagl, Cane) who are known to have been advisers to General Petraeus, as well as General Petraeus himself. Though General Petraeus has been known to recommend T. E. Lawrence’s Seven Pillars of Wisdom, the article focused on a short piece that Lawrence wrote after less than two years of working with the Sherifian forces, that is, the Arabs on horseback and camel who were led by a member of the family that, as direct descendants of the Prophet Muhammad, had traditionally been entrusted to be the guardians of Mecca and Medina. Lawrence’s article is in the main a guide to conduct, to Dos and Don’ts In Dealing With the Bedouin. I found the article, though short, still unnecessarily long for what it actually conveyed, and what it actually conveyed was, in the main, obvious, even banal, though here and there something of value was imparted. I suggested that another set of “Twenty-Seven Articles,” more useful for those being sent to Iraq, would help prepare members of the American military better for what they would confront, and have to understand if they were to successfully further American national interests.
Since Nature, including human nature, abhors a vacuum, if one argues that original “Twenty-Seven Articles” is not of great moment or great use, then that critic has a duty to suggest a possible replacement.
I have composed that replacement below. It consists partly of advice that could be given at any time, partly of advice based on a reasonable guess as to what would happen in Iraq once the regime of Saddam Hussein fell, and partly on what we know now. I include the conclusions of the third kind because Lawrence, after all, prepared his own “Twenty-Seven Articles” not before he went out to the Middle East, but in mid-1918, after his military role with the Sharifian forces had ended.
This is the vademecum, then, that I offer as a replacement to Lawrence’s “Twenty-Seven Articles,” based on what was known, or should have been known, about Iraq before the American invasion, and what has become even clearer in the nearly seven years since.
It comes in, just, at the same number.
1. Muslims are history-haunted, in a way that non-Muslims have difficulty grasping. Whatever greatness Islam may lay claim to lies, they sense, in the distant past, though they are unwilling to consider if those tales of past greatness are exaggerated, or what might explain the steady decline after the first few centuries of Muslim conquest. Muslims – not only in Iraq – feed themselves on a steady diet of tales about the greatness of Arab or Islamic civilization, a greatness that if it existed ended almost a millennium ago. We in the West, upon examination, find them full of exaggeration and preposterous claims. Iraqis are not immune to this, and they also lay claim – not all Arabs do – to a pre-Islamic greatness, when they refer to their country as the place “where civilization began.” Babylon and Ur become subtly enrolled in an Islamic narrative, despite preceding the arrival of Islam by more than a thousand years.
Thoughts of past greatness serve as a kind of palliative for present-day Iraqis, as for other Muslims. They find it impossible to begin to connect Islam with the causes of their present wretchedness, though a century ago, there were in the Muslim world those who had begun to make the connection, and one leader, Ataturk, who was determined to do something about it, by constraining Islam. Today, without more, that recognition is unlikely to happen in the rich Muslim states, where oil revenues disguise economic failure. And in any case, among the Arabs in Iraq, as outside Iraq, the concept of ‘Uruba, or Arabness, is so strong, and so connected to Islam, that the Arab ethnic identity, and Islam, mutually reinforce one another. In Iraq you may find that Islam is least fervent among some of the Sunni elite, including those who supported the Ba’ath Party, and far more, among the non-Arab Kurds.
Mostly, you should note how, by Western standards, how ever-present is Islam, how every conversation is sprinkled with Islamic phrases, or allusions to events in the life of Muhammad. To understand the world of Islamic allusion takes time, and not everything will be said in the presence of Infidels. But you can begin to study the main outlines of Islam, and the main phrases and details of Muhammad’s life, so that you can understand the code of Iraqi or Muslim life, the attitudes and atmospherics of everyday existence — what might be called the Muslim mind, that is, the minds of men who live their lives in societies or communities suffused with Islam.
Do not expect the Iraqis you meet, save for the most remarkable and unrepresentative, to even come close to pondering the connection to what Islam inculcates, and the various kinds of failure (political, economic, social, moral, intellectual) that you will observe if you remain in Iraq long enough and sink beneath the surface. You will, if you remain long enough and observant enough, in Iraq, come to grasp that Iraqis cannot truly accept, much less begin to ponder the real explanation, for that wretchedness (political, economic, social, moral, intellectual), so they have to keep that “glorious past” in mind.
2. Iraq itself is not an ancient state, like Persia or Egypt or Arabia. It was created by the British after the breakup of the Ottoman Empire in the Middle East, following upon the defeat of that empire in World War I by the Allies. It was an artificial state, with three distinct parts, each consisting of a former vilayet – an administrative unit in the Ottoman Empire. These are the vilayets of Mosul, Baghdad, and Basra. The northernmost, Mosul, can be thought of as largely Kurdish, though it contains other, smaller groups, and though Kurdistan is not limited to northern Iraq, and there are millions of Kurds who live as well in eastern Turkey, in Syria, and in Iran. The second of the three vilayets is that of Baghdad, the most important city (and the area surrounding it), in Iraq, which when Iraq was formed dominated that city and the surrounding areas, including most importantly, to the north and west, Anbar and Diyala provinces. The third vilayet, Basra, was centered on the city of that name, and the southern regions that include the oil of Iraq that is not to be found in Kurdistan.
3. The oil of Iraq is to be found only in the north and in the south, that is, in the former vilayets of Mosul and of Basra. The places where Sunnis predominate, in the vast western desert of Iraq, in Anbar Province, and in Diyala Province that extends from just north of Baghdad to Kurdistsan, does not appear to have any oil. Since oil is the only resource of consequence in Iraq, and since as in other Muslim oil states there is little human capital to count on, the Sunnis managed, during their long rule, to consistently divert much of Iraq’s revenues to themselves, to the rulers and their families and their tribes and to the Sunni regions. The Shi’a were so impoverished that, physically, many had their growth stunted. The memory of how revenues were monopolized by the Sunnis has not been forgotten.
4. The most important fissure in Iraq, one that goes back to the earliest centuries of Islam – and did not appear because the “American invader” arrived – is that between Sunni and Shi’a Arabs. Shi’a make up only 10-15% of the world’s Muslims. However, they constitute more than 90% of the population of Iran, and more than 60% of the population of Iraq, and about 80% of Iraq’s Arab population. In a democratic system, the Sunni Arabs would have very little power, unless they were able to present themselves no longer as solely defenders of the Sunnis, but as – a tall order – non-denominational Iraqi nationalists. There are Shi’a Arabs who are secular and do not approve of the all-Shi’a lists, and it is these Shi’a to whom, perhaps, such Sunnis might appeal. Keep in mind, in Iraq, that the Sunni Arabs are not apologetic about their previous behavior; they believe they have a right to rule, to lord it over the Shi’a, and they are aware that there are powerful Sunni states around them, prepared possibly to offer financial aid, military aid, and volunteers should the Shi’a of Iraq try to monopolize power. Furthermore, the Sunni Arabs do not recognize their own numbers, but – and this is a feature of Muslim peoples – tend to believe their own self-serving myths, and among those myths is that they constitute not 20% but more than twice that percentage of the Iraqi population.
5. Naturally the Shi’a Arabs, having suffered under Sunni rule for so many decades — and never was that rule more cruel than under Saddam Hussein, with hundreds of thousands of Shi’a murdered, and the Shi’a regions cut off from government-funded development — are determined never again to allow the Sunnis to dominate them. You should be aware of this attitude. You may find yourself torn, depending on where you are stationed. You might, seeing Iraq after the removal of the regime, not quite grasp the nature of the previous regime. You may not understand why it was that those who urged the American government to topple Saddam Hussein, and who predicted that Iraqis would welcome the Americans as “liberators,” were almost to a man Shi’a Iraqis in exile. They knew there was only one way to get rid of Saddam Hussein, and that was through the armed might of the Americans. They had their own plans, their own visions, for what was to come, and they still do.
6. The Sunni Arabs, on the other hand, even those who had suffered under Saddam Hussein, were keenly aware that they might lose power, and so have always been less enthusiastic about the removal of the Ba’athist regime. You should not be surprised at this. Saddam Hussein may have been a monster, but he was their monster, and the Sunni Arabs, while they hardly flourished, did receive obviously preferential treatment compared to other groups in Iraq.
7. You will hear the word Ba’athist quite often when you get to Iraq, and also about the need to “de-Baathify” the country. The word “Ba’ath” or “Ba’athist” requires some discussion. In the first place, there is something called the Ba’ath political movement, which is not limited to Iraq. This owes its origins to the desire of several Syrians, the most important of whom was a Christian, Michel Aflaq, and the second most important of whom was a Shi’a Muslim, to find a political role for themselves back in the 1940s. They were, thus, marginalized figures in a country, Syria, largely populated by Sunni Arabs, though there were considerable numbers of Christians, not inconsequential economically. There were the Alawites, too, who as Muslims would be assigned to the Shi’a sect, and who had power owing to their role in the military. In a world largely dominated by Sunni Arabs, they tried to find a way for themselves and those like them to have a place in the political world. This could be done, they felt, in a “secular” group – that is, non-mosque-based, and theoretically open to both main sects of Muslims, Sunni and Shi’a, and also to non-Arabs, such as Kurds and Turcomans, and even to non-Muslims, such as Assyrians, Chaldeans, Greek Orthodox, Maronites.
8. Ba’athism became the official political ideology of the ruling class in both Iraq and Syria. But in both countries, the Ba’athist regimes shared some characteristics: a strong local despot, an omnipresent Party, and official obeisance to the ideal of pan-Arabism. But in each country Ba’athism was really accepted because it was a faÃ§ade for something else. In Syria, that something else was rule by the Alawites, a sect not regarded by the majority Sunnis as truly part of Islam, chiefly for its syncretistic features (a cult of Mary, for example). Since the Alawites constitute only 12% of the population of Syria (but have a near-monopoly on the upper officer corps of the Syrian military), they needed to disguise their sect’s rule by claiming that not Alawites, but Ba’athists rule, and to officially pretend that non-Alawites could not only be in the Party, but rise high in it.
9. In Iraq, however, rule by the Ba’athists camouflages a Sunni Arab despotism, useful in a country where Sunni Arabs make up less than 20% of the population. Shi’a Arabs, Kurds, even some Christians have been allowed to join the Ba’ath Party. Iyad Allawi, for example, a Shi’a Arab now trying to create a “secular” alternative to the Shiite Alliance, was once a member of the Ba’aath Party. Some Kurds have been members, though at low levels. And even some Christians have joined the Ba’ath Party; Tariq Aziz, Saddam Hussein’s foreign minister, was known to be a Christian (despite his Islamic-sounding name) and was useful based on the idea of pan-Arabism (which to them meant not a subset of, but an alternative to, the pan-Islamic impulse).
10. Why does this matter? Because Americans are in Iraq, have been in Iraq for nearly seven years, not only to topple Saddam Hussein, but to see if they can somehow bring a modicum of democracy, or at least to help get people thinking in terms of elections and representative government, rather than of how to plot or profit from the next military coup. Iraq now has the oil reserves to be as rich as Saudi Arabia, with a population that, to the extent that it is more secular, is also more likely to be able to do without an army of submissive foreign wage-slaves. But the prospect of these great riches does not, it seems, lead to a concentration on national unity, but merely increases the jockeying for power, as the future riches to be grabbed loom ever larger.
11. Western democracy is not merely a matter of elections. It is based on a theory, and that theory, coming out of the social contract theorists (Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau) of Western political theory, posits a state of nature in which men, in order to be more secure in their lives and their property, entrust the government with a monopoly of violence, as most likely to ensure the safety of individuals. They also entrust government with other tasks too, as long as it represents the will of the people, not as divined, but as expressed through elections. In other words, the political legitimacy of any government comes from that will expressed by the people. In Islam, the individual does not matter. He is ideally a “slave of Allah,” one who has acquired the habit of mental submission, who merely asks what is the rule and never questions the rule, as transmitted by Allah to Muhammad, his Messenger. In Islam, submission to authority is demanded, if that authority is a Muslim faithful to the dictates of Islam. Those who are not Muslim may be allowed, under certain conditions of humiliation and degradation, to live and even to practice their own faiths if those faiths are those of the People of the Book (ahl al-kitab), that is, Christians and Jews, or if, for practical reasons, Muslims have deemed it to make sense to treat in a like manner those who are not either Christians or Jews – Zoroastrians, Hindus – but who, if kept alive, are more likely to be of benefit to Muslims than if either put to death or forcibly converted en masse.
12. You, as officers and men of the American military, are entitled of course, while in Iraq, not to simply turn off thought, but to make sense of your own experiences. And it may well be that you will find, as you deal with the local Muslims, that the mission which is yours to fulfill does not correspond to the reality you experience. You may find, for example, that it is unlikely that “democracy” in the Western sense can exist if the peoples of Iraq regard themselves not as individual citizens, but as members of sects or groups that must vote as a bloc, as their leaders – such as Ayatolah Al-Sistnai in the case of the Shi’a – tell them. You will also become aware that the locals do not think in terms of political compromise, but in terms of victors and vanquished, and they dream and they scheme to be the victors in any future polity, not through appeals to morality, nor to the ballot, but only through possession of superior force which they can use against their rivals for power.
13. If you allow yourselves to think, then you may find, while in Iraq, that the plans to encourage national unity in and to bring “democracy” (or “freedom” as it is sometimes misleadingly called) to Iraq no longer make sense to you. Indeed, there is reason to think that the high suicide rate of our soldiers, which has been a source of anxiety, may have something to do with loss of faith in the mission itself, and may not always reflect only personal problems with family members at home. If you do not admit to your men that you share their doubts, when you do, but keep insisting on the rightness of a mission that you yourself have decided makes little sense, you may encourage their demoralization. You are required to try to fulfill a mission but you are also permitted to doubt that mission, and to say so. That is not usual in war. But this is not a usual war.
14. You may begin to wonder about the relationship of the outcome in Iraq to the wider war being waged around the world against non-Muslims by Muslims, both in Muslim-dominated lands and even in the Western world. You may not be able to help yourself from wondering what is the real significance of the outcome in Iraq to, say, the Muslim threat in France, or Great Britain, or the Netherlands. This is most likely to happen if you keep abreast of matters on the Internet; for obvious reasons, army information services in Iraq will not be paying any attention to Muslim threats in Western Europe, not least because that kind of talk will offend Iraqis whose goodwill, we are told, we must win. But you are not to be prevented from thinking about Iraq as one theatre of war, and Afghanistan as another, and to try to make sense of their relative importance, and the cost to our forces of the effort. You should never stop thinking about the larger picture, for some of you are likely to return as officers to Washington, and your intelligent assessment of things is valuable even to those, or especially to those, who have formulated policies without consideration of the nature and extent of the threat to the Western world from the ideology of Islam.
15. You might wonder as to what it is that explains the unwillingness of all but a handful of Muslims in Iraq to exhibit the spirit of political compromise. In order to fully understand, you must begin to study, to read and then re-read, and then re-read with adequate guides and commentaries to its sometimes obscure meaning, the Qur’an, and with it, the Hadith – the written records of the words and acts of Muhammad – and the Sira, the biography of Muhammad, as Muslims understand and accept it. Without a knowledge of these, you will not understand Muslim attitudes toward you. You will take at face value expressions of undying friendship and loyalty, and will be dangerously unprepared for the meretriciousness and betrayals you will undoubtedly experience, in ways little and big, throughout your time in Iraq or, later, in Afghanistan. This sense of betrayal need not dishearten you. You should soberly accept the fact of what Islam inculcates, what it causes Muslims to think about Infidels.
16. There will be exceptions. There will be, among the military men and the civilians you meet, some who will strike you as fine fellows, for whom you will express fellow feeling. In many cases, your faith will be misplaced. But you may find among those fighting with you against Al Qaeda, or the Taliban, or engaged in “reconstruction” work, some who seem to you to be genuinely friendly and to be trusted. Resist the temptation to find out. There are indeed such people, but their numbers are so small, and they themselves might, for various reasons, change their attitudes – or be pressured to do so – toward the Infidels. But that it is not worth risking your life, or the lives of your men, on your faith in a Muslim version of Gunga Din. Be always on guard.
17. Naturally you will be interested in the position of the Christians in Iraq. During the first few years of the American presence in Iraq, the same Iraqi Christians who had served Saddam Hussein, as his tasters, his cooks, his chauffeurs, his household staff, simply transferred their allegiances to the Americans whom, they knew, would not distrust nor damage them. But there is a bitterness among the Christians at what they see as the naivete of American policy, in allowing those whom they call “the Turbans” (that is, the Shi’a Muslims, who for the Christians have turned out to be more dangerous than the Sunni Arabs were under Saddam Hussein’s iron rule) to take power in Iraq. There is no doubt that the removal of Saddam Hussein has caused anxiety, and worse, for the Christians in Iraq. This too may surprise you. We think of Saddam Hussein as a political monster. He was. But he also was a brake on those Muslims who, now “liberated” from him, are dealing with Iraq’s Christians unmercifully, driving them out, killing many, showing that Iraq is of, by, and for Muslims. At least half of the Assyrians and the Chaldeans have left Iraq already. This is a direct result of the American invasion, one seldom discussed in public. And this outflow of Christians has had another consequence. Though they constituted only 4-5% of the Iraqi population, they also constituted about one-third of the professional class, of doctors, engineers, and university teachers, and their loss cannot easily be made up. Those who have left will not be returning, and why should they?
18. Perhaps it is time for you to be reminded, or if you did not know before to inform you, that the Iraqis in exile who helped to persuade the American government to invade Iraq were almost entirely Shi’a Arabs. This was overlooked by many, but it turns out to be important. For they had their own interests, and their main interest was in persuading the American government to do what the Shi’a Arabs in Iraq could never have done themselves: remove Saddam Hussein, his sons, and the rest of his collaborators, from power, by killing or capturing them, so that the regime could never be restored. Not all of these people were deliberately bent on misleading the American government about what they wanted – a transfer of power to the Shi’a (and in some cases, as with Ahmad Chalabi, ideally a transfer of power to them, as individuals), and a permanent marginalizing of the Sunni Arabs. Nor were they necessarily deliberately deluding the Americans when they promised a delirious reception for them, as liberators, in Iraq. Even someone normally as sober as Professor Bernard Lewis predicted, seduced by the predictions of Chalabi among others, that the welcome the American soldiers would receive would “make Kabul seem like a funeral procession” (when the Americans drove out the Taliban, there was celebration on the streets of Kabul).
It is possible that some of the Shi’a in exile believed that the people in Iraq would welcome the Americans, that is, beyond the first few days in which any powerful conqueror is courted, even if that conqueror is an Infidel. It is possible that they believed the overturning of the old Sunni (Ba’athist) order could lead to smooth transition, though there is nothing to indicate that in the history of Iraqi coups and counter-coups, in the sheer violence of the country that characterizes not only the years of Saddam Hussein, but the years of Qassem and the years of Nuri es-Said during the 1950s and 1940s, and the coup of Rashid Ali in 1941, and before that, the mass murder of the Assyrians in 1933, and before that the uprising of the Shi’a who did not want to accept rule by Sunnis. This history of violence was ignored by our government, but when you get to Iraq you will soon realize that history is not mocked, and it is extremely unlikely that any lions will by lying down with any lambs, especially since only the helpless Christians and Mandeans and Yazidis and Shabaks, tiny non-Muslim minorities all, are the lambs, and all the Muslim groups are lions.
19. Be wary, in Iraq, even of the most outwardly westernized, sophisticated, and outwardly friendly of Iraqis who are Muslims. You will meet such people, who will of course try to meet you, and win you to employing American power against their internal enemies. The Arabs will do it against the Kurds, the Kurds against the Arabs, the Sunni Arabs against the Shi’a, the Shi’a Arabs against the Sunni Arabs. Each will want you to take their side and to be deeply suspicious of the intentions of all the others. And to make matters still more confused, you will find, as you train Iraqis, or even fight beside and not against them, that as you see the wretched conditions of the lives of so many, you may become as Americans sometimes do, sentimental about the perception of foreign poverty. And without asking yourself how, in a country with vast oil revenues and reserves, there is such poverty, you may become sympathetic — when sympathy can lead to dangerous misjudgment. And when you find yourselves, as you well may, fighting for a time against a common enemy, such as Al Qaeda in Iraq, it is possible that the handful of Iraqis you can trust will stay in your minds, and the many you can never trust be overlooked, for there is a danger which might be called the Gunga-Din danger, of seeing as a true-blue friend (as was Kipling’s fictional hero) someone who is a temporary ally and who, in any case, is the exception and never the rule. Be on your guard at all times. Trust no one who considers you to be, whatever else you are, an Infidel.
20. The Kurds need special mention. Ever since 1991 they lived, and began to thrive, under American air cover. That is, Saddam Hussein knew that if he sent his planes or helicopters to Kurdistan, the Americans would shoot them down. He prudently refrained. The Kurds had a dozen years, then, to practice a kind of autonomy that is not independence, but close to it, and they do not intend to ever again submit to rule by Arabs. Make sure you understand that the Kurds are not Arabs, that the Kurds in northern Iraq are part of a people who, in the Middle East, are 20 million strong, and who were promised, by the Great Powers who defeated the Ottomans, an independent Kurdistan –which, in the 1920s, by the Treaty of Sieyes, became a promise forgotten. But the desire of Kurds, who live not only in Iraq but in eastern Turkey, in Syria, and in Iran (both just across the border in Iran, and in scattered communities in eastern and northern Iran as well), remains. American troops will discover that they have the least problem with Kurds, who will be far more friendly to the Americans than any Arabs, and it is likely that some of you will even take your R-and-R at a lake in northern Iraq, deep in the Kurdish country. We understand that the Kurds are not only grateful for our past efforts, but recognize that their main protector, of their present and future interests, the sole possible means for them to attain independence rather than have to content themselves with autonomy within Iraq, is through military and diplomatic support given, for its own good reasons, by the American government.
21. The Kurds will be seen as pro-American, and that is relative. There are a handful of Kurds, who wish, on the other hand, to see their identity solely in terms of Islam. These are the kind of Kurds who join the group Sunna al-Islam, formed by one Mullah Krekar, now in exile in Norway, though there are attempts to deport him. Even among non-Arab Muslims, that is, who tend to be less fanatic adherents of Islam, there will always be those locals who wish to demonstrate they can be as fiercely Muslim as the Arabs, and that phenomenon can be observed in Kurdistan, even if most Kurds, because of their mistreatment by the Arabs, have begun to regard their Kurdish identity as working against sole loyalty to Islam. (Much the same phenomenon, of a local identity playing against Islam while some sharing that identity become ever more fanatically Muslim, can be observed among the Baluchis in Pakistan).
You will arrive in Iraq naturally assuming that the people who suffered the most from Saddam Hussein will naturally be deeply grateful. That may be true, to some extent, with the Kurds, but it is not true with the Shi’a Arabs. The explanation for this has something to do with the hold of Islam on Arabs and its lesser hold (save among the Pakistanis) on non-Arab Muslims, who have another identity to appeal or repair to, an identity that may be connected to a formidable pre-Islamic past.
You have to remain wary at all times, but within that general rule, there are degrees of wariness. The Kurds in Kurdistan may not be as likely to require the kind of vigilance as you will find necessary when dealing with, hiring, cajoling, training, even fighting alongside, Arabs in the rest of Iraq. Though many Kurds are Sunnis, this is not of great importance; many of the Arabs who were moved into Kurdish areas by Saddam Hussein to permanently arabize them were Sunni as well as Shi’a Arabs, and the Kurdish hostility toward them is not one whit lessened by a sharing of the same version of Islam.
Always make your own judgments of the locals. Do not accept, even from those who seem to inhabit, or offer the illusion of inhabiting the same moral and intellectual universe as Western man, their judgment of their own situation or of that Iraq. The most advanced Iraqis, those to whom one would wish well, have been known – like “reformers” in other nearby Muslim countries — to misjudge their own strength, their own appeal, and to consistently underestimate what the primitive masses desire, or what they can be made to desire.
22. The Iraqi exiles, who played such an important role in the decision to invade Iraq, were people who are good examples of those who, outwardly westernized, sophisticated, secular, did not understand, or in some cases willfully refused to understand, their own country. Many had been out of Iraq for so long, had lived in London or Washington or other Western capitals, with other exiles like themselves, that they simply forgot what a country soaked in Islam is like. Ahmad Chalabi, for example, had left Iraq in 1958, when he was fourteen, and spent forty-five years outside Iraq, mostly in the West. Kanan Makiya, the architect who became an acute analyst and ferocious critic of Saddam Hussein, had been out of Iraq for more than a decade, and was used to a society of the most advanced Arabs. While Chalabi all along appears to have been playing his own game – he is now seen as supporting the Shi’ite Alliance, and to have some involvement with Iran – Kanan Makiya was much more of an idealist. Yet he confesses that he, too, is puzzled by what happened in Iraq. He did not expect what did happen; he did not expect the Sunnis to refuse to acquiesce, apparently, or the Shi’a to insist on retaining the power they have now, at long last, acquired. In other words, he – Kanan Makiya – forgot about Islam, and what it does to prevent the spirit of political compromise. In the same way, we might note that while he wrote about the Arab silence concerning the mass murder of Kurds, he offers a note of puzzlement about the silence of those he calls “Arab intellectuals.” But that puzzlement is itself of note, for we, who are not Muslim, nor Arab, have no difficulty in grasping that Islam itself has always been a vehicle for Arab supremacism, and the Arabs have treated not only the Kurds, but the Berbers in North Africa, and the black African Muslims of Darfur, with the same contumely if not always with the same murderous hostility. (However, the acts of the Arab Janjaweed in Darfur may remind one of the Arab behavior — see Chemical Ali — in Kurdistan when, under Saddam Hussein, they could get away such things.) Perhaps Kanan Makiya is still puzzled, or perhaps, with his sinecure – classifying and studying documents taken from Iraq – he will have time to arrive at an understanding of his own reality, and that of Arab supremacism within Islam.
23. You need to keep in mind the example of Ahmad Chalabi, in order to disabuse yourself of trusting any Iraqi, no matter how charming or seductive he might be. Chalabi was the most influential of the Iraqi exiles, a mathematician who had received his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago, who knew exactly whom to flatter and whom to woo in other ways. He made the rounds of official Washington. He made noises about being friendly to Israel. He even went to pay his respects to Bernard Lewis, in Princeton, to calculatingly admire Lewis’s library and Middle Eastern artifacts as a way to win his heart and mind – for he knew that Lewis was important to win over. But Chalabi himself has turned out to be quite different from what his many admirers expected. What counts for him, however, is that his efforts were a complete and glorious success. He was very important in persuading the Americans to get rid of Saddam Hussein, and to forget that Saddam Hussein, though monstrously cruel, was also a ferocious enemy of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and at the moment, it is the Islamic Republic of Iran that constitutes the main threat to Infidels in the Islamic world. It is entirely possible that if Saddam Hussein, for example, had remained in power, he might have allowed the Americans to overfly Iraq in order to destroy Iran’s nuclear project. He might even have participated by engaging in diversionary attacks on the ground. No one likes now to consider that possibility lost, because no one likes to think that it would have been appropriate to allow the collaboration of Saddam Hussein. You will remember, however, that during World War II the Americans and British were happy to allow the collaboration of, the indispensable participation of, the Red Army and of Joseph Stalin, in order to deal with Hitler and the Nazis.
This matter is raised because in Iraq you should be thinking of the immediate task, the one where you try to further the goals laid down in Washington by those who may not know the country as well as you will come to know it, and who are thus mistaken about the consequent sense (or absence of sense) of those goals. You should also be thinking of how this theater of war, Iraq, fits into a larger picture. It would be a poor officer who did not think of what the effect of Iraq is on the American military, on its need to husband resources for a war that, if properly understood, will be seen not as a “long war” but as a war without end, requiring that men, money, materiel, and morale not be squandered. You, as members of the military, should not have been expected to have known what was to come to Iraq, but you have a right to wonder about the quality of the understanding of civilian leaders, and to be determined to use the conclusions you draw from your own experience to put you in a position, once you are reassigned or return to this country, to help make sense of the Iraq mission, and to educate those who appear to make military policy on the basis of an imperfect grasp of the ideology of Islam, and of what can happen to adherents of that ideology, when they take it most to heart.
24. You are, for example, now entitled to make pronouncements on the likely success of the stated goals of American policy – to create a prosperous and unified Iraq – and if that success is unlikely, what goals, in Iraq, and outside of Iraq, make the best sense, given the need to husband and not squander resources. You are entitled to discuss Islam without inhibition and apology, and without constantly looking over your shoulder to make sure you have not offended Muslims or those who claim that such discussion will harm our efforts to “win hearts and minds” in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, elsewhere. You are entitled to adduce the evidence of the American effort, over seven years, to win hearts and minds in Iraq, a place rescued from a monstrous regime that gave no signs of letting go or letting up, where even those victimized do not exactly display heartfelt and permanent gratitude.
25. You are also entitled to draw conclusions about what you observe of the fissures in Iraq that we are told are always just about to heal, but that never seem to heal. These include the split between Arabs and non-Arab Kurds, a split that does not appear to be ending, and the split between Sunni and Shi’a Arabs, that should not surprise, but for some reason keeps surprising, and is likely to be reflected in low-level hostilities that will not be tamped down. And those low-level hostilities might, in certain circumstances, lead to co-religionists in the countries adjacent to send in money, materiel, and volunteers to make sure that either the Sunnis, or the Shi’a, prevail. If you only serve in Iraq, and draw no conclusions, do not allow yourself to endow your experience with meaning and shape, then much of the valuable experience you have gained will not be taken advantage of, not put to good use in the formulation of future policies.
26. No doubt you will find it strange to be encouraged to take a view broader than that which Iraq itself offers. But if you are unaware of what is going on in the countries of Western Europe, and especially in those that are our partners in the military alliance called NATO, then you may not be able to place Iraq properly in a grander scheme of things – nor Afghanistan, or Pakistan, either. If the American effort to keep Iraq whole and prosperous succeeds, you may take a certain satisfaction in having helped to make the attainment of those goals possible, but you may also wish to question the durability of that outcome, and whether or not, from our point of view, that is the outcome most to be desired.
27. Remember that when T. E. Lawrence was offering his twenty-seven articles on how to deal with the Bedouin tribesmen and their leaders, he said almost nothing about Islam. For Lawrence, there was no worry about the forces of Islam managing to threaten the stability and security of the Western world. That would have seemed to him to have been an impossibility, too ridiculous to consider. So he could afford, and others, those who made much of him and participated in the cult of Lawrence, the myth of Lawrence, could also afford to engage in romanticizing the desert Arab on his camel or horse. Today that kind of thing is not permissible. The threat from Islam is real, and not comical. The instruments of Jihad are various and effective – not only terrorism, as a version, so the Muslims see it, of qitaal or combat justified by Western technological superiority, but also the deployment of the Money Weapon, campaigns of Da’wa to create and enlarge a Fifth Column within the Infidel lands, and demographic conquest, that proceeds with such obvious and frightening consequences.
In the middle of World War II, throughout the United States, many rallies were held under the title “Why We Fight.” We have to remember what it is that now presses upon us, that caused us to begin to fight, uncertainly, confusedly, without connecting the dots but focusing only on a small but sensational aspect of that many-faceted war: that is, Terrorism. We need not endure much longer that unhelpful phrase “the War Against Terrorism.” The war is one of self-defense, and it is the consequence of an ideology, taken deeply to heart, in ways many still cannot understand, that divides the world uncompromisingly between Believer and Unbeliever, Muslim and Infidel, and inculcates the notion of a state of permanent war (though not necessarily of open warfare) between the two until such time as everywhere in the world, and not in this or that sliver of land alone, all obstacles to the spread and then the dominance of Islam are removed. This means depriving the non-Muslims of their own sense of themselves, of their own legal and political institutions insofar as these may indeed be considered “obstacles” to the spread and dominance of Islam.
It should not be hard to understand this, but many are determined to make it hard. They understood, or their leaders once understood, in a different time, that the Nazis, and the Japanese militarists, possessed an ideology that prompted their acts that went far beyond traditional Great Power rivalries. And that totalitarian ideology, too, characterized our enemies in the Cold War – the Soviet Union, and its satellites held in thrall. But when it comes to Islam, we willingly allow ourselves to ignore the very great differences between the faith of Islam and other faiths that, out of habit, have come to share the title “religion.” It may surprise some to discover that that word was not applied to Islam quite so readily by writers in Western Christendom before the last century.
The ideologies of the Nazis and the Japanese militarists were not open to all. If you were not German or not Japanese, it would be an effort to find appealing doctrines that did not include you as part of the favored group, though there were, for other reasons — fear, the desire for helping themselves to the property of those who were persecuted and murdered, sympathy for the fascist boot – those who willingly collaborated.
Unless those who fought in Iraq and those who ordered them to fight in Iraq and now order many of the same soldiers and Marines to fight in Afghanistan are wiling to see beyond the immediate tasks they are assigned, and to begin to study the ideology of Islam, and understand and share with the civilians who give them orders that understanding of that ideology, we will continue to squander men, money, materiel, to damage morale both civilian and military, and keep our attention manically on matters that prevent us from seeing a larger picture. That larger picture must include, should have at its very center, the fate of Western Europe, and the instruments of Jihad – the Money Weapon, campaigns of Da’wa, demographic conquest – that will have much more effect on the wellbeing of Americans than anything that does or does not emerge as a future polity in Iraq or Afghanistan.
The experience of fighting in, of being in, Iraq, ought to have taught some lessons. Not “how to fight an insurgency” – with money and weaponry, you can buy temporary alliances all over the place, especially if you are only asking the group in question to fight what its members already consider to be their enemies – but how to husband resources. That involves the questions of how to exploit pre-existing fissures within the enemy camp (the Camp of Islam), how to keep focused on the most important matters (preventing any further acquisition of WMD by Muslim states or groupuscules; halting any further increase in the Muslim presence in Europe as the historic heart of the West) and how to re-dimension, back to manageable size, the threat from Islam. Then attention can be turned to other threats, whether from other countries (an aggressive China that does not appear to be acting according to the complacent Western script, where greater prosperity is supposed to bring with it a lessening of outward aggression) or from other quarters originating in actions by men, and not to be solved but which are at least susceptible of amelioration if attention is not manically focused on this wasteful, because ignorantly and timidly conducted, “war on terrorism.” If you leave Iraq having learned nothing that would be of value in the future formulation of policies by our government, in the war of self-defense that has been thrust upon it, and even now being conducted confusedly, tentatively, uncunningly, without any hint of what might be called a grand strategy, that would be a pity, and much more than a pity.